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Stories from the UN Archive: Leap year events from UN history

From expanding indigenous peoples’ seats at the UN table to appointing an Israeli-Palestinian orchestra co-founded by renowned scholar Edward Said as a UN Global Advocate for Cultural Understanding, here is a peek at some of what happened on this day across the decades.

Zanzibar, which became independent on 10 December 1963, was admitted as the 112th UN Member State. (file)
UN Photo/Yutaka Nagata

Zanzibar, which became independent on 10 December 1963, was admitted as the 112th UN Member State. (file)

1964: Zanzibar signs on to World Health Organization

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) accepted memberships from nations and territories in every region of the world. After all, in 1964, there were 115 UN Member States and dozens of colonies yet to achieve independence.

Zanzibar, an island in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa, became independent of British rule and joined the UN as its 112th Member State in December 1963. On 29 February in 1964, the country submitted its application for WHO membership. That followed Tanganyika’s WHO application in 1962, which came after the East African nation fought for independence from the British the previous year.

While the two countries held separate UN and WHO memberships at the time, by the end of April 1964, Zanzibar and Tanganyika became a single UN Member State, merging to become the United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar. By November that year, the country was renamed the United Republic of Tanzania.

The heavily damaged buildings of the city of Tyre in southern Lebanon after an attack by the invading Israel forces in 1978. (file)
UN Photo/John Isaac

The heavily damaged buildings of the city of Tyre in southern Lebanon after an attack by the invading Israel forces in 1978. (file)

1984: Soviet Union vetoes draft to send UN force to war-torn Lebanon

The veto is a power vested in the UN Security Council’s five permanent members – China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States. On this day in 1984, the Soviet Union, now Russia, vetoed a Security Council draft resolution that would have called up a UN force to assist Government of Lebanon, which had been embroiled in a civil war that ended up spanning 1975 to 1990.

Tabled by France, the draft resolution would have had the Council “issue an urgent appeal for an immediate ceasefire and the cessation of all hostilities through Lebanon”. In addition, and in agreement with the Government, it would have constituted immediately, under its authority, “a UN force composed of personnel furnished by Member States other than the permanent members of the Security Council and selected, if appropriate, from contingents of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL)”.

The UN force would have been mandated to monitor compliance with the ceasefire and help to protect civilian populations, including in Palestinian refugee camps. While the draft was vetoed, the Council renewed UNIFIL’s mandate in April 1984 and has, annually, ever since.

Portrait of the members of the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers group, who participated in launching the International Year of Indigenous Peoples  at UN Headquarters in 1993. (file)
UN Photo/John Isaac

Portrait of the members of the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers group, who participated in launching the International Year of Indigenous Peoples at UN Headquarters in 1993. (file)

1996: UNGA expands fund for indigenous peoples’ seats at the UN table

On this day in 1996, the General Assembly adopted a resolution to expand the mandate of the UN Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Populations, created a decade earlier.

The original purpose of the fund was to financially assist representatives of indigenous communities and organizations to participate in meetings pertaining to them. The fund’s scope has expanded eight times since its inception, including to provide assistance to attend the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in 2001, an expert mechanism on their rights in 2008 and Human Rights Council sessions in 2010.

In 2013, the Assembly adopted a name change for the initiative, which is now called the UN Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples. Contributions between January 2020 and May 2022 totalled $1.9 million, according to its latest report, with Canada being the largest donor, contributing almost $470,000 in 2022.

The UN Security Council votes to authorize the deployment of  a multinational force to Haiti in 2004. (file)
UN Photo/Evan Schneider

The UN Security Council votes to authorize the deployment of a multinational force to Haiti in 2004. (file)

2004: Security Council deploys multinational force to Haiti

A night meeting of the Security Council authorized the immediate deployment of a multinational interim force to Haiti, on 29 February 2004.

Acting in response to a deteriorating political, security and humanitarian situation, the 15-member Council adopted resolution 1529. The multinational force was mandated to deploy for a period of three months to help secure the capital, Port-au-Prince, and other areas of the country.

In June, the Council established the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) to take over from the multinational force, which operated in the country until 2017.

2016: Israel-Palestinian orchestra newest UN advocate for cultural understanding

On this day in 2016, the UN Secretary-General appointed the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra as a UN Global Advocate for Cultural Understanding.

Speaking to press with co-founder and UN Messenger of Peace maestro Daniel Barenboim, the Secretary-General said that the orchestra’s every performance is a testimony to the power of music to break down barriers, to promote cultural understanding and to build bridges between communities.

Mr. Barenboim founded the orchestra in 1999 with world renowned Palestinian scholar and musician Edward Said, who died in 2003. The goal was simple: unite young musicians from Israel and Arab countries to foster dialogue and people-to-people diplomacy.

The 100th anniversary of Afghanistan’s independence was celebrated in Kandahar and across the country in August 2019. (file)
UNAMA/Mujeeb Rahman

The 100th anniversary of Afghanistan’s independence was celebrated in Kandahar and across the country in August 2019. (file)

2020: UN welcomes United States-Taliban deal

On this day in 2020, the United States and the Taliban announced their peace treaty in Qatar.

The deal included guarantees to prevent groups hostile to the US from operating on Afghan soil and for a timetable for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan, where US troops and their allies had been deployed since 2001, shortly after the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres commended efforts to achieve a “lasting political settlement” in the country, reiterating the UN commitment to support the people and the Government of Afghanistan.

UN forces left Afghanistan in August 2021. The Taliban seized power shortly thereafter.

#TBT leap days

A leap year takes place roughly every four years, when an extra day is added to the Gregorian calendar. That extra day is tacked onto the end of our shortest month, February, and the 29th is known as “leap day”. The next one will be in 2028, but the next time #ThrowbackThursday happens on a leap day, it will be 2052!

Every #TBT, UN News is showcasing epic moments across the UN’s past, cultivated from UN Photo and UN Audiovisual Library’s 49,400 hours of video and 18,000 hours of audio recordings in the Stories from the UN Archive series. Visit UN Video’s playlist here and our accompanying series here.

Join us next Thursday for another dive into history.

‘Carnage’ in Gaza must end, UN rights chief tells Human Rights Council

“The war in Gaza must end,” Mr. Türk said, insisting that it was “well past time” for peace, accountability and investigations into the “clear” violations of international humanitarian law and possible war crimes by both sides.

Horrors of war

“There appear to be no bounds to – no words to capture – the horrors that are unfolding before our eyes in Gaza,” said High Commissioner Türk, as he presented a scheduled report from his Office, OHCHR, on the desperate situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory to the Council.

Underscoring the “unprecedented level of killing and maiming” of civilians in the enclave, Mr. Türk noted that at least 17,000 children have now been orphaned or separated from their families.

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And after reiterating his condemnation for the “shocking…totally unjustifiable” Hamas-led attacks on 7 and 8 October, along with the “appalling and entirely wrong” taking of hostages, Mr. Türk noted that at least three in four Gazans had been displaced by the war, amid the “systematic demolition of entire neighbourhoods” that had rendered Gaza largely uninhabitable.

Lasting impact

Addressing the Council, which is the UN’s top rights forum under the auspices of the UN General Assembly, Mr. Türk said that thousands of tonnes of munitions had been dropped by Israel on communities across Gaza since 7 October.

“These weapons send out (a) massive blast wave of high pressure that may rupture internal organs, as well as fragmentation projectiles, and heat so intense that it causes deep burns – and they have been used in densely populated residential neighbourhoods,” he said. “In Egypt’s Arish hospital, last November, I saw children whose flesh had been seared. I will never forget this.”

Civilians in crosshairs

The High Commissioner also noted that likely “indiscriminate or disproportionate targeting” by Israel had left tens of thousands of Gazans missing, “presumed buried under the rubble of their homes”, before condemning the firing of “indiscriminate projectiles” by Palestinian armed groups of indiscriminate projectiles “across southern Israel, and as far as Tel Aviv”.

Supporting role

Among the forum’s 47 Member States there was almost universal support for the UN rights chief’s condemnation of the attacks on Israeli communities by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups, his call for the release of Israeli hostages still held in the enclave, the need for an immediate ceasefire and accountability for violations of the laws of war from both sides and the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian State.

Hight Commissioner Volker Türk presents report on human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory to delegates of the 55th session of the UN Human Rights Council.
UN News/Anton Uspensky

Hight Commissioner Volker Türk presents report on human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory to delegates of the 55th session of the UN Human Rights Council.

Israel stance

For Israel, Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Meirav Eilon Shahar, decried the attacks by Hamas “terrorists” and repeated unsubstantiated allegations of complicity between the UN and the armed group.

Sitting with two freed hostages – Aviva Siegel and Raz Ben Ami – who clasped hands to support one another during the debate – the Israeli delegate also insisted on her country’s right to defend itself in line with international humanitarian law.

Israel is fighting in a battlefield that Hamas has created in Gaza,” she said. “One in which terrorists hide behind and within the civilian population. One that the UN has witnessed being built around and below them for years and chose to ignore.” 

“Israel has been told time and time again that the terrorists who have diverted aid, built terror tunnels, brutally murdered innocent civilians, raped, beheaded, burnt families alive – cannot be touched because they hide among the civilian population. Yet we have no choice. We must go after Hamas, or they will continue to come after us.”

Show of hands

Spontaneous applause briefly interrupted proceedings in response to comments from the Palestinian representative, Ibrahim Khraishi, after he issued strong condemnation of the Hamas-led massacres in Israel that sparked the latest spike in the conflict. 

“We do so firmly,” he said, but nobody is really condemning the fact that women, children and the elderly are being killed.” 

Some 12,000 children and 8,000 women were among the victims, Mr. Khraishi insisted, as he cited unconfirmed reports on Thursday morning that dozens of Palestinians had been killed by the Israeli military in Gaza City while they waited for aid trucks to arrive.

A boy looks across his bombed out neighbourhood in Gaza.
© UNRWA

A boy looks across his bombed out neighbourhood in Gaza.

“Are these combatants, are they human shields?” he asked, before appealing to the international community to prevent “a new slaughter” in Rafah, in reference to an impending all-out offensive by Israeli forces in the absence of a ceasefire agreement.

UN rights chief Türk earlier cautioned against an Israeli ground assault on Rafah where 1.5 million people are now sheltering “despite continuing bombardment”. 

An Israeli offensive “would incur potentially massive loss of life, additional risk of atrocity crimes, new displacement to another unsafe location distribution; and sign a death warrant for any hope of effective humanitarian aid.” The High Commissioner said. “I fail to see how such an operation could be consistent with the binding provisional measures issued by the International Court of Justice.”

 

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No medicine, no hope: Doctors describe life under Israeli attack in Gaza

“Life is very difficult here,” hospital manager Dr. Haidar Al-Qudra told UN News.

Currently, only 12 of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are “partially functioning”, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), with the rest destroyed by Israel’s near constant bombardment of the enclave.

As the war in Gaza enters its fifth month, Israeli forces continue to raid healthcare facilities, with Al Amal Hospital among the latest to endure a weeks-long deadly siege. Israel claims Hamas is operating in hospitals, but Palestinian authorities and medical professionals have refuted those allegations.

Al Amal Hospital took 40 direct hits that killed at least 25 people and incapacitated the health facility, according to a report from the UN Humanitarian Country Team in Palestine.

Buildings continue to be peppered by Israeli sniper fire, communications blackouts and the detention of health workers alongside drastic shortages of essential goods and restrictions on what lifesaving supplies can enter the complex, according to UN agencies and news reports.

‘We are surrounded now’

Since the start of the siege on Al Amal in January, more than 8,000 displaced people have been evacuated from the complex, many having used the premises as shelter from Israeli attacks in the area.

Nearby fighting and multiple bombings found health workers “were afraid for their lives” and, for more than a month, they have been unable to leave the hospital buildings, Dr. Al-Qudra said.

We are surrounded now, and patients cannot reach the hospital because they are not allowed to walk in the streets near the hospital,” he said. “Our ambulances now cannot move outside the hospital.”

Dr. Haidar Al-Qudra, manager of Al Amal Hospital.
UN News

Dr. Haidar Al-Qudra, manager of Al Amal Hospital.

‘Most patients have either died or are suffering’

Many surgical cases had been postponed, he warned, noting that five months had passed without many operations being performed, from mastectomies and thyroidectomies.

“All of these normal operations were not performed in any hospital, therefore, most of these patients either died or they are suffering more and more,” Dr. Al-Qudra said.

Extensive damage has also forced management to try to transfer patients to get the care they need. After the ceiling on the third floor collapsed, he said they would now refer around 35 patients to other nearby hospitals.

But, the remaining hospitals across Gaza are badly overcrowded. In Rafah, 77 newborns were sharing 20 incubators, according to UNFPA.

At Rafah’s Al-Helal Al-Emirati Maternity Hospital, 77 babies share 20 incubators. 
© UNFPA Palestine/Bisan Ouda

At Rafah’s Al-Helal Al-Emirati Maternity Hospital, 77 babies share 20 incubators. 

‘First time we see the sun’

Dr. Waheed Qudih, a surgical consultant at Al Amal Hospital, was among the medical staff trapped inside during the siege.

“This is the first time we see the sun,” he said, referring to the arrival of a joint UN mission to the battered premises this week. “We have not been allowed to leave the hospital door since 21 January.

He, like others, he stayed inside on site “to help injured patients”.

“We perform a lot of surgeries for injured patients, such as general surgery and orthopaedics,” he explained. “We have saved the lives of many patients, and we did what we could with limited facilities.”

Dr. Waheed Qudih, a consultant surgeon at Al Amal Hospital.
UN News

Dr. Waheed Qudih, a consultant surgeon at Al Amal Hospital.

Joint UN relief mission

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Following reports of the besieged medical centre, the UN deployed a joint mission, with WHO alongside agencies for humanitarian affairs office OCHA, the mine action service (UNMAS), reproductive health agency UNFPA, the safety and security department (UNDSS) and UNRWA, the Palestine refugee relief agency.

Meeting with health workers in the besieged hospital and checking on the condition of the patients and companions inside, the mission’s goal was to evacuate 24 patients and deliver lifesaving food, water and fuel as well as emergency surgical supplies and antibiotics to treat an estimated 50 infections.

The mission had to leave 31 non-critical patients behind, an OCHA spokesperson said on Tuesday, highlighting that the Israeli military had not given “any information or any communication” about why the mission ambulances were detained for at least seven hours nor why the paramedics “had been taken out, forced to undress”.

‘There are still patients here’

Dr. Athanasios Gargavannis, a trauma surgeon and WHO emergency staff member, said the level of devastation he witnessed is “beyond imaginable”.

“However, there are still patients here,” he said. “Our top priority is to identify and refer a number of them so they can continue to receive care.”

As chronic delays at Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing continues, with news reports showing Israeli protesters blocking the entry of aid into Gaza, some nations have resorted to emergency aid airdrops this week.

But, that represents only a tiny portion of what is needed at Al Amal and other Gaza health centres.

WHO and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society lead lifesaving missions to transfer critical patients from besieged hospitals in Gaza.
© WHO/Christopher Black

WHO and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society lead lifesaving missions to transfer critical patients from besieged hospitals in Gaza.

‘No respect for any humanitarian law’

At Al Amal Hospital, Dr. Al-Qudra said that before the war, it had 100 beds, focused on maternal and child health and was able to meet basic surgical and internal medicine needs while providing specialized rehabilitation services.

The destruction caused by the bombing of the third floor reduced the capacity to an estimated 60 beds. Supplies are scarce. Communications blackouts continue.

On Wednesday, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said Israeli forces continued to detain seven team members for nearly three weeks, including a doctor, anesthesia technician and ambulance staff, who were taken into custody during Israel’s raid on Al Amal Hospital, according to media reports.

These days in Gaza, Dr. Al-Qudra stressed, there is “no respect for any rule or any humanitarian law related to the medical staff”.

UN staff help to transfer patients out of Nasser Hospital in Gaza.
© WHO/Christopher Black

UN staff help to transfer patients out of Nasser Hospital in Gaza.

 

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World News in Brief: Air travel boom erases COVID dip, ‘disturbing’ new anti-LGBT bill in Ghana, rights abuses in Crimea

Civil aviation organization ICAO said that the numbers for the first quarter of 2024 indicate that airlines will sustain the return to profitability recorded in 2023.

“The commitment of Member States to aligning their pandemic responses with the guidance developed by the ICAO Council has been crucial to the recovery of their air services,” said Council president Salvatore Sciacchitano.

“The implementation of ICAO’s post-pandemic guidance is now equally crucial to ensuring the resilience and sustainability of this recovery.”

The agency forecasts increasing traffic growth to around three per cent above 2019 levels, and possibly four per cent if the pace of recovery grows on routes which have not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels.

“The aspirational goals agreed upon by governments towards the decarbonization of air transport by 2050 are supporting the environmental sustainability of the recovery and future development of the global air transport network,” said ICAO Secretary General Juan Carlos Salazar.

The analysis indicates that air traffic on most routes had already reached or surpassed pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2023.

Flying high

The major regional routes which passed the 2019 mark by the end of last year were travel within Europe; Europe to/from North America, the Middle East, southwest Asia and Africa; North America to/from Latin America and the Caribbean, southwest Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific; Middle East to/from Southwest Asia and Africa.

Most international Asian routes, with the exception of those serving southwest Asia, continue to have substantially lower levels of traffic in 2023 compared to pre-pandemic levels.

UN rights chief slams ‘profoundly disturbing’ Ghana family values bill

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The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Wednesday described a parliamentary bill in Ghana which introduces new criminal sanctions against LGBTQ+ citizens as “profoundly disturbing”, urging lawmakers to halt its passage.

Volker Türk said the Human Sexual Rights and Family Values Bill 2024 would broaden criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transexual and queer people “simply for being who they are”. The bill also “threatens criminal penalties against perceived allies of LGBTQ+ people”, he warned.

Live free from discrimination

“I call for the bill not to become law. I urge the Ghanaian Government to take steps to ensure everyone can live free from violence, stigma and discrimination, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity”, said Mr. Türk.

“Consensual same-sex conduct should never be criminalized.”

He expressed deep alarm that the bill criminalizes the legitimate work of human rights defenders, teachers, medical professionals, landlords and people seeking healthcare.

“The bill is contrary to Ghana’s own Constitution and freely undertaken regional and international human rights obligations and commitments, including to leave no one behind in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” said the High Commissioner.

Mr. Türk stressed that the bill is corrosive and will have a negative impact on society as a whole.

He restated his office’s (OHCHR) commitment to work with the Government of Ghana and its national partners to ensure it fulfils its human rights commitments and obligations.

Russia’s decade-long occupation of Crimea marked by widespread violations

The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine on Wednesday published a new report documenting serious rights violations and infringements of humanitarian law in Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.

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The violations have persisted over a decade of occupation by Russian forces, with Moscow unlawfully imposing citizenship requirements, laws and institutions “across all spheres of life, suppressing opposition and dissent”, the mission said in press release.

The report reveals Russian efforts to restrict civic space and limit fundamental freedoms. Crimean Tatar leaders, perceived as opposing occupation or Russian policies, have been particularly impacted.

Those Tatars who fled the peninsula have been barred from returning while many Russians have been resettled in Crimea in a bid to change the demographics of the region.

‘Grim harbinger’

“Over the past decade, we have documented efforts by the Russian Federation to impose the Russian language, culture and institutional framework on Crimea, while at the same time taking actions to erase the peninsula’s rich cultural, linguistic and religious heritage,” said mission head Danielle Bell.

Any opposition has been met with harsh reprisals, says the report, with some subjected to rights violations, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention and torture.

The findings are “not only alarming, but they are also a grim harbinger of the devastating and lasting impact Russian occupation may have on other occupied regions of Ukraine”, Ms. Bell said.

 

Wheat from war-torn Ukraine to feed families affected by conflict in Sudan

The in-kind donation – part of the ‘Grain from Ukraine’ humanitarian initiative launched by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy – arrived in the coastal city of Port Sudan and was loaded onto WFP trucks for emergency food distribution.

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The UN agency is working around the clock to urgently deliver critical food assistance to families who are struggling with skyrocketing food insecurity as fighting between rivalry military forces in Sudan enters a 10th month. 

‘We need to act now’ 

“The humanitarian situation in Sudan is catastrophic, but we need to act now to stop it from spiralling further out of control,” said Eddie Rowe, WFP’s Country Director in Sudan.

Staff are “working at pace to get food assistance into the hands of families that need it as quickly as possible”, he added. 

The 7,600 tonnes of wheat flour will be provided to families, many of whom have fled their homes due to the fighting and are struggling every day to meet their food needs. 

Critical time as fighting spreads 

The shipment was made possible by the German Federal Foreign Office, which covered the entire €15 million operating costs, including the transportation of the wheat from Ukraine to Sudan and the implementation and distribution within the country. 

It has arrived at a critical time as fighting continues to spread ahead of the lean season in May, when food typically becomes scarcer and hunger rises. 

This donation will enable WFP to support people whose lives have been completely upended by the war,” said Mr. Rowe, expressing gratitude to Ukraine and Germany for supporting the Sudanese people in their greatest hour of need. 

Steadfast support 

Germany is WFP’s second largest donor and has been a steadfast supporter of its lifesaving work in Sudan, the agency said.

Last year, the German Government provided nearly €30 million to WFP operations in Sudan, ensuring vital food assistance reaches people trapped by conflict.

WFP has been warning of a looming hunger catastrophe in the country as the lean season approaches. Currently, nearly 18 million people face acute food insecurity, of which nearly five million are in emergency levels of hunger.  

The UN agency has already provided emergency food and nutrition support to around seven million people since the conflict began last April, yet needs continue to grow. 

Afghanistan: UN appalled at revival of public floggings, executions

“We are appalled by the public executions of three people at sports stadiums in Afghanistan in the past week, said OHCHR spokesperson Jeremy Laurence in a statement.

“Public executions are a form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” he said. 

“Such executions are also arbitrary in nature and contrary to the right to life protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Afghanistan is a State party. They must cease immediately.”

Victims shot multiple times

The executions in Ghazni and Sheberghan cities were carried out in the presence of de facto court and other officials, as well as members of the public. The convicted individuals were reportedly shot multiple times, the Office reported.

Such executions are also arbitrary in nature and contrary to the right to life protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Afghanistan is a State party. They must cease immediately.

Since the Taliban takeover in August 2021, five people have been publicly executed further to decisions of the de facto judicial system and approved by the Taliban leader.

“Given these serious concerns, we urge the de facto authorities to establish an immediate moratorium on any further executions, and to act swiftly to prohibit use of the death penalty in its entirety,” the Office spokesperson said.

End public flogging

“The de facto authorities also continue to implement judicial corporal punishment in public,” the spokesperson said, adding that it also constitutes a form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, which is prohibited under international human rights law.

Citing two recent incidents that happened on Sunday, he said that in Laghman, in the east, a 12-year-old boy and a man were flogged for the crime of immorality, again in public and in the presence of de facto officials. On the same day, in Balkh province in the northwest, a woman and a man convicted of running away from home and adultery were publicly flogged 35 times.

Corporal punishment must cease, he said.

“More generally, we call on the de facto authorities to ensure full respect for due process and fair trial rights, in particular access to legal representation, for anyone confronted with criminal charges,” the spokesperson said.

Humanitarians launch $674 million appeal urging ‘increased solidarity’ with Haiti

Ulrika Richardson, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti, was speaking from the capital, Port-au-Prince, a day after the Government and partners launched the plan to provide food, shelter, health, education and protection services for 3.6 million people this year. 

This is a call for increased solidarity, and Haiti needs it,” she said, noting that the country is “going through one of the most critical moments in its recent history”. 

Record violence, rising displacement 

Ms. Richardson reported that last year saw “a very steep increase” in murders, lynchings, rape and other violence committed by gang members operating mainly in the capital and nearby Artibonite province.

This “very tragic trend” has continued into 2024, with January being the most violent month in two years, she added, echoing recent findings by the UN human rights office, OHCHR. 

Sexual violence, including collective rape – mainly affecting women and girls – effectively rose 50 per cent over 2022 levels, and “too often the perpetrators go free,” she said in response to a reporter’s question. 

The number of Haitians forced to flee their homes has also risen, with some 314,000 now displaced. People are sleeping on the streets, camping out in schools or living in host communities, where resources are already overstretched. 

Education under attack 

Haiti has a population of around 11 million, and humanitarians have assessed that around 5.5 million people require assistance. 

Of that number, more than four million are facing acute food insecurity, with increased malnutrition among children and pregnant women.  

Additionally, 45 per cent of Haitians do not have access to clean drinking water. 

Ms. Richardson drew particular attention to the plight of children, who comprise the majority of people in need, around three million. Rampant violence is threatening their access to education, while students who rely on school feeding programmes are missing out on meals. 

“At some point, we had 1,000 schools not open during the month of January, and that means a lot to children and a generation that has already seen impacts on their schooling,” she said, citing first the COVID-19 lockdown followed by the collapse of security and services. 

Support for UN-backed mission 

Whether at home or in the streets, people in gang-affected areas are at risk. Gangs also often control major roads in and out of the capital, thus hindering both Haitians and the humanitarians that serve them.

Ms. Richardson was asked how Haitians feel about the proposed multinational security support mission authorized by the UN Security Council to back up the national police. 

If you would ask people on the street if they need assistance to deal with the gang violence, they will say yes,” she answered. 

Responding to another question, the veteran humanitarian described the suffering and pain in Haiti as “daunting” and “appalling”. 

“I can say that what I’ve witnessed here – and many with me, including Haitians – it goes beyond even what you could have feared in your worst nightmare.” 

Tackle root causes 

Last year, the UN and partners sought $720 million for their operations in Haiti and received around 34 per cent of the funding.  

She explained that this year’s “financial envelope” is lower, even though needs are greater, as humanitarians have tried to be more targeted in their approach, plus they have learned what works best and also have very good cooperation with local organizations.

“We really count on a very robust mobilization of the international community,” she said, expressing hope for the 2024 plan.

However, she stressed that humanitarian assistance is not the solution to the crisis in Haiti and called for parallel investment to address the root causes.  

All parties to Gaza crisis may have committed war crimes: UN rights chief

In his Office’s latest report on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory scheduled to be delivered to the Human Rights Council later on Wednesday, Mr. Türk repeats his condemnation of the Hamas-led massacres in Israel on 7 October that left some 1,200 butchered and calls for the immediate release of all Israeli hostages.

Plight focus

The High Commissioner for Human Rights also underscores how Israel’s “massive military response” had caused “unprecedented destruction and suffering” which had led to the dire humanitarian crisis being endured by Gazans now facing imminent famine.

“Clear violations of international humanitarian law, including possible war crimes, have been committed by all parties,” the report from the Office of the High Commissioner states, before calling for further investigations to establish accountability and to overcome “entrenched impunity”.

Humane treatment call

Among the actions expected of the warring parties, the report from the UN rights chief urges Palestinian armed groups in Gaza “to ensure the humane treatment and immediate release of all hostages”, to stop firing “indiscriminate projectiles” at Israel – and to pull out fighters from buildings used by civilians.

The High Commissioner’s report also calls for Israel to “immediately end all practices of collective punishment” of Gazans including the “complete siege” and ensure “immediate access to humanitarian and commercial goods throughout Gaza, commensurate with the immense humanitarian needs”.

Appealing to the Israeli military, Mr. Türk urges the return of all Palestinians uprooted from their homes by the war, along with compliance with international humanitarian law by ending the use of explosive weapons “with wide area effects” in built-up areas. Protection must also be provided for hospitals and other civilian infrastructure that are essential for people’s survival, the report states.

Universal connectivity gets a $9 billion private sector boost

“Universal meaningful connectivity is within our grasp,” said ITU Secretary-General Doreen Bogdan-Martin. “Thanks to these new commitments, millions of people will benefit from accessible and affordable connectivity across the world.”

Fresh investments from e&, China Telecom, Ooredoo and VEON build on strong industry support for the UN digital agency’s efforts to “connect the world”, she said.

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Bridging the digital divide

Around 2.6 billion people remain offline worldwide, according to data from the specialized UN agency, which drives innovation in communications technology.

As telecommunications infrastructure forms the backbone of connectivity and digital transformation, it is vital for closing the global digital divide and overcoming development impediments in areas from education and health to government services and trade, the agency said.

To achieve that, ITU has called for $100 billion in overall investments by 2026 to provide the expertise and resources required to extend universal, meaningful connectivity and sustainable digital transformation to every corner of the globe.

ITU also launched Partner2Connect in 2021 to reach this goal. Today, more than 400 organizations have committed to investing over $46 billion in the coming years to realize this shared vision.

Fresh private-sector investments

The fresh commitments aim to make strides across the world.

That includes accessible and affordable network connectivity and digital services across countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia as well as providing information and communication services to over 80 million people in remote villages across China and building infrastructure in Ukraine by providing connectivity and digital services essential to the country’s reconstruction.

The UN digital agency also announced that it now has over 1,000 industry, academia and organizational members in addition to 193 Member States, a milestone in its 159-year-old history, ITU said.

This multistakeholder model of collaboration will continue to be a strong force in the UN system to bridge the digital divide and build an inclusive, safe and sustainable digital future for all,” the ITU chief said.

World News in Brief: Noncommunicable diseases in emergencies, aid plan for Haiti, peace efforts in CAR

NCDs are responsible for 75 per cent of deaths worldwide, and it is estimated that strokes and heart attacks are up to three times more likely following a disaster, they said. 

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To save more lives, they are meeting in Denmark this week to ensure that care and treatment for NCDs are included as a standard part of humanitarian emergency preparedness and response. 

Conditions worsen during crisis 

“People living with NCDs in humanitarian crises are more likely to see their condition worsen due to trauma, stress, or the inability to access medicines or services,” said the head of the World Health Organization (WHO). Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. 

WHO has convened the three-day meeting alongside Denmark, Jordan, Kenya, and the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, which opened in Copenhagen on Tuesday. 

The number of crises impacting people’s health has been increasing, they reported. 

Last year, WHO responded to 65 graded health emergencies worldwide, up from 40 a decade earlier.  UNHCR also issued 43 emergency declarations to scale up support in 29 countries – the highest number in decades.

The UN estimates that 300 million people worldwide will need humanitarian assistance and protection in 2024, with over half in need of emergency health assistance.

Families gather at a site for displaced persons in Tabarre, Haiti.
© UNICEF/Ndiaga Seck

Families gather at a site for displaced persons in Tabarre, Haiti.

$674 million humanitarian plan for Haiti 

Moving to Haiti, where the UN, Government and partners have launched a $674 million plan to meet humanitarian needs this year.

The plan seeks to provide food, shelter, health, education and protection services for 3.6 million people, said UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric, speaking in New York on Tuesday. 

He said it comes against the backdrop of a serious protection crisis for millions in Haiti.

In 2023, the country saw the highest number of murders, kidnappings, lynchings and sexual assaults in the last five years.  Additionally, nearly one in two Haitians are food insecure, and basic services are on the verge of collapse.

Rights expert commends peace efforts in Central African Republic 

An expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council has urged the Government of the Central African Republic (CAR) to continue efforts towards peace and stability.

Yao Agbetse, Independent Expert on human rights in the CAR, concluded a 10-day visit to the country on Tuesday.

He welcomed efforts by the Government to extend security to significant parts of the territory, while highlighting remaining challenges beyond urban areas.

“Despite progress, daily insecurity persists due to armed groups entrenched in remote regions, particularly forests and mining sites,” he said in a statement. 

The rights expert addressed recent incidents, such as an attack on the village of Nzakoundou, located in Lim-Pendé prefecture, where the 3Rs armed group allegedly targeted army checkpoints, resulting in casualties and civilian deaths. 

Call for accountability

Condemning the violence, he stressed the importance of holding perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity to account. 

“The use of explosive devices in various prefectures has further aggravated the situation, causing civilian casualties, with children being particularly affected, and disrupting essential activities such as schooling and agricultural activities,” he added.  

He also called for support for demining efforts, urging technical and financial partners to provide assistance to the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and to integrate demining specialists into the UN peacekeeping mission in the country, MINUSCA. 

Independent experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva.

They receive their mandates from the Council, are not UN staff and receive no payment for their work. 

 

 

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